Educating children with visual impairments
We recently featured a paper (all links at bottom of this page) that began with a brief history of research and findings relating to CVI, which noted:
The etiological profile of children attending schools for the blind is also changing
Etiological refers to the causes. The causes of the visual impairment of children attending specialist schools for the blind are changing.
There are two types of visual impairment in children, one is due to disorder of the eyes, called ocular visual impairments (OVI), the other is due to disorder of the brain, called cerebral visual impairments (CVI). Some affected children can of course have both.
What is changing?
There is an increasing number of children with CVI, and a decreasing number with OVI.
Ok, but why?
This trend is likely to continue.
But what about the educational needs for this growing population of children with CVI?
Education happens in all sorts of settings, often depending on local facilities and resources. Some children go to specialist schools, including those for visually impaired children. Some go to mainstream schools, sometimes with additional support, some are home-schooled. Of course for all children, much education takes place in the home, where they spend most of their time and where it can be most effective. We explain more about this in our Guide for Parents.
Specialist schools for children with visual impairments, particularly in more economically developed countries, have increasing numbers of children with CVI. But, are they resourced and prepared to effectively cater for this shift from OVI to CVI? Are resources and preparations even necessary?
The same paper also explains some of the research into the key differences between OVI and CVI. As has been noted before, visual impairments of the brain and of the eyes, can be very different.
Accommodations for eye visual impairments may not only be unsuitable or useless for some children with CVI, they may actually be detrimental to development because they tend to assume normal mental processing abilities.
If approaches for teaching children with OVI and CVI are different, what skills do teaching and support staff in these schools need, to deliver the curriculum? Can they meet the needs of the children with CVI they support and teach?
The specialist knowledge to teach children with ocular visual impairment will always of course critically important - BUT - the children with CVI also need matched specialist teaching and support, and transferring OVI teaching methods to CVI without specific CVI training is not the solution.
We still need OVI teachers, but where are the specialist CVI teachers and support workers?
What should we do?
To ensure the existing knowledge pool remains rich, and continues to grow to meet the needs of the increasing number of children with CVI, this issue needs to be addressed NOW!
We asked our advisor, CVI Expert Professor John Ravenscroft from the University of Edinburgh's School of Education:
What is needed is that the competencies that are mandatory to become a teacher of learners with visual impairment must be changed so that all new teachers have competence in supporting learners who have CVI and / or OVI. In other words, this also becomes a political decision in that those who are responsible for assembling the teacher competencies for VI teachers must be aware of how to support a child with CVI and bring about the changes needed to reflect these changing profiles.
This is the name given for the specific areas a government decides a teacher needs to know and to pass exams in, so as to qualify to teach a particular subject. Different countries have different systems or may use different terminology, and some are nationally agreed, others regionally. In vision, not all specialist teachers are required to understand CVI to qualify to teach visually impaired children. This is not the fault of the teachers or the Universities who make the courses to teach the teachers. Their courses have to reflect the government's (or the country's own teaching council's) agreed list of competencies.
John Ravenscroft's point is that teachers need to be qualified to teach the subjects they are teaching....this would seem obvious. Imagine a teacher who was teaching part of the mathematics curriculum who didn't know how to teach core parts.
Specialist VI teachers already have a difficult remit, as they need to be able to teach potentially any subject to any child of any age and learning ability in multiple different formats, including braille (as explained in John Ravenscroft's blog, below). And that is just for children OVI, but what about the growing population of children with CVI?
Any parents reading this will no doubt know from conversations with other parents that it can be an absolute nightmare getting the right school support for their child with CVI. Even though many of the child's needs are remarkably simple to accommodate, like slowing things down and reducing clutter, so turning an inaccessible classroom into a rich learning environment. This should not be made so difficult for parents, who have enough to do. It should be the norm for all schools teaching children with these needs.
At CVI Scotland we try to stick to just explaining CVI and sharing developments and research, but this issue is extremely important and affects us all. The issues we are presenting are not opinions, they are facts. The evidence is overwhelming.
Until governing bodies (national or local) add CVI to the competencies teachers need to be trained in, this will not change.
The CVI Scotland Team
PS Everything new can be found in our Updates section, and via Twitter @scotlandcvi and our Facebook Page.
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At CVI Scotland we are devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards developing the understanding of this complex condition.